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Confirmed: Intelligence Told Trump Russia Has Compromising Information; Trump's CIA Pick Pompeo's Views on Russia; FBI Director Comey Under Investigation in Clinton Case; Russia's Role in U.S. Politics; Big change in U.S. Policy Towards Cuban Migrants; Obamacare Not Helping with Rising Medical Costs. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired January 13, 2017 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:00:11] Welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Cyril Vanier. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Coming up in the show --

(HEADLINES)

VANIER: Our big stories today involve U.S. intelligence. Vice President Joe Biden confirms that he and President Barack Obama were briefed on claims that Russia had compromising information on Donald Trump. CNN first reported that U.S. intelligence chiefs also gave the president-elect a two-page synopsis on those unsubstantiated claims.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department's inspector general is investigating the FBI and James Comey. He wants to look into how the bureau handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail server case. Comey said that the bureau was looking at a potentially new batch of e-mails and Democrats say that's why Clinton lost the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D), ILLINOIS: I think that steps were taken by the director of the FBI near the election which were not precedented. It had not ever happened before. His statement about whether there was going to be an opening of an investigation, a closing of an investigation, I don't think was fair, professional, or consistent with the policies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: We'll get you more on the Department of Justice investigation and on Donald Trump's FBI briefing in a moment.

But, first, we're learning more about Donald Trump's pick to lead the CIA, including his views on Russia.

Pamela Brown reports from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. MIKE POMPEO, (R), KANSAS: I will continue to pursue foreign intelligence collection with vigor.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRSEPONDENT (voice-over): CIA director nominee, Mike Pompeo, addressed the reporting on CNN that U.S. intelligence chiefs provided a synopsis of allegations compiled by a former British intelligence official to President-elect Trump and President Obama. The specific allegations, which CNN has not verified or included in this reporting, claimed that people within Trump's campaign communicated with Russia before the election, and also that the Russians have compromising personal information about the president-elect.

POMPEO: These are unsubstantiated allegations.

BROWN: Today, Vice President Joe Biden is confirming that he and President Obama were briefed last week by intelligence officials on the unsubstantiated claims. Biden's office also saying the vice president told reporters that intelligence leaders felt obligated to tell Obama because they were planning on informing Trump.

The testimony by Pompeo comes a day after President-elect Trump called the reports, calling them fake news and suggesting, without proof, intelligence officials were responsible for the leaks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe the intelligence agencies, who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they, in fact, did that, a tremendous blot. Because a thing like that should have never been written. It should never have been had. And it should certainly never have been released.

BROWN: U.S. intelligence chief, James Clapper, called Trump last night trying to ease the tension between him and the intelligence community. Clapper released a statement after, saying, quote, "i do not believe the leaks came from with the I.C.," intelligence community. And what amounts to the first public confirmation that the synopsis existed and had been put together for the president-elect, Clapper added, "However, part of our obligation is to ensure the policymakers are provided with the fullest picture of any matters that might affect national security."

POMPEO: The leaks that occurred as well, I consider to be intensely serious, too. And I think Director Clapper's statement from last night or this morning about his concern about these leaks is worthy.

BROWN: Pompeo also blamed Russia for interfering in the election, coming out stronger than the president-elect has.

POMPEO: It's pretty clear about what took place here about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy.

This was an aggressive action taken by the senior leadership inside Russia and America has an obligation and the CIA has a part of that obligation to protect that information.

BROWN (on camera): James Clapper also said in the statement released after his phone call with Donald Trump that the intelligence community did not factor in any of the allegations in that 35-page memo when making its assessment that Russia tried to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump during the election.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: Meanwhile, FBI Director Comey says he is grateful that the inspector general is investigating the bureau. He also wants the results shared with the public. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to agree with the probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[02:05:15] SEN. TOM CARPER, (D), DELAWARE: He explained to us he was faced with two decisions, just as I said earlier, two decisions, one with very bad consequences and the other with disastrous consequences. He chose what he thought were the less harmful consequences to our country. We are still in a place where we need to know the truth. And the truth is -- can be -- a big part can be provided by the FBI. And we had from Mr. Comey, a firm commitment that he would work day and night to make sure that we got to the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: We haven't heard from Hillary Clinton herself on this manager, but her former campaign manager, Robby Mook, said that Comey's late campaign letter about an investigation should never have happened in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER (voice-over): The leaks that were coming left and right from the FBI were so slanted against Hillary Clinton. Director Comey also claimed he needed to send that letter to the Hill because he was worried it would leak out. Well, we can't punish candidates because of the bad behavior, or the improper and unprofessional behavior of bureaucrats. It's just unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Alex Rogers is a congressional correspondent to "The National Journal." He joins me from Washington for more on this.

Alex, politically, how important do you think this is and what impact could it have?

ALEX ROGERS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NATIONAL JOURNAL: You can see that Democrats, it helps their argument in some ways potentially, that the FBI's actions hurt Hillary Clinton in the final days. The FBI director's actions were done within two weeks of election day and it's one of the things they've latched on to. They haven't done an autopsy really but what they have said is that the FBI director, in addition to the reports about Russian interference, have hurt her -- have hurt the Clinton campaign. VANIER: Right. That is mostly as you say during the autopsy of the

election. But going forward, is this something that could continue to be a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, depending on what the probe reveals?

ROGERS: There's a number of different things that Democrats are latching on to now. There's that. There's the announcement yesterday by Donald Trump that he's not going to two of the things that ethics experts want him to do, which is to divest himself from his business interests and to place his assets into a blind trust. There are a number of different things that Democrats are focused on right now, including the Department of Justice's actions today.

VANIER: The inspector general at the Department of Justice says the review was prompted by requests from both the public and members of Congress. Listen to one of them Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R), UTAH: How do you review literally what I heard, at least from the press, hundreds of thousands of documents in such a short amount of time when it took almost a year to go through a smaller number? A lot of questions, legitimate questions, and for the sake of justice, air those out. That's what we do as a nation. We are self-critical. We do take a critical look. I don't think it was "the" factor, but I think it was a factor, and we should look at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: So, he is eager to get to the bottom of it, which brings me back to the original question, which is, is this just something about governance and how the FBI and DOJ should act going forward or will it have political impact that you think Donald Trump could be worried about this evening?

ROGERS: I remember going to a briefing at the Republican Party's headquarters after the election where they had a map showing the states that they thought they could win. And in October, many Republicans in Washington, D.C., didn't think that Donald Trump could win. There was some late breaking media reports and actions by the FBI department that happened around that time. And then you saw a number of different states that weren't expected to go for Donald Trump that went for Donald Trump. Now there wasn't a direct connection. It's very difficult to tell what motivated voters to go to the polls or not to go to the polls but this is a cloud across the election results.

VANIER: Quick question, the inspector general at the DOJ is running this. But a week from now, the Trump administration is free to appoint a new inspector general. Do you expect this investigation will continue?

ROGERS: It will be interesting to see what Donald Trump -- you know, what actions he's going to be taking in the next few days. His inauguration is next Friday. It will be -- you know, to see Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what kind of actions that he may take, expecting that he gets confirmed in the coming weeks. I think that will be good to watch.

[02:10:14] Alex Rogers, congressional correspondent at "The National Journal," thank you very much.

ROGERS: Thank you.

VANIER: And the common thread in many of these events is Russia, and the role that that country may have played in American politics, from the unsubstantiated claims that Moscow had compromising material on the president-elect to the election hacking that the president-elect now confirms probably comes from the Russian.

Let's bring in CNN contributor, Jill Dougherty, joining me from Moscow.

Jill, has there been more reaction from Moscow?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not much. They continue to kind of repeat this denigration of all of it, basically, by saying, number one, there is no proof and, number two, it is probably just power structure of the United States, elite power structure trying to bring down Donald Trump, who they would argue is trying to improve relations with Russia. That is the constant theme.

We have, however had comments from Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for President Putin, saying, look, at least Mr. Trump is talking about readiness for dialogue, and Russia, too, is ready for dialogue, we should have mutual respect. And he almost quoted, you could say, verbatim, what Donald Trump is saying, which is, "We don't expect to agree on everything but at least we'll have mutual respect and try to work together to try to improve the situation."

So, at this point, the Kremlin is probably standing back. There's enough chaos ensuing in Washington on this. That, if they get into it too deeply, it will be very confusing very fast. They stand back, let the Americans go through their chaotic situation but, basically, hold out that hope that Mr. Trump and they and Mr. Putin will work together.

VANIER: Also, Jill, I'd like your take on the confirmation hearings going on in Washington at the moment. Several key characters tipped to lead the CIA, America's defense and diplomacy have all been critical of Moscow on Thursday and on Wednesday, more so than the man they have to serve, Donald Trump.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely, true. In fact, I think it's really striking that is happening. You have Donald Trump, who came out, and has since the beginning, and said that he wants a good relationship with Russia. He has been complimentary of President Putin. And now when you have the secretary of defense and others, especially defense and the State Department, Mr. Tillerson, out there very critical of Russia, saying that Russia is a danger to the United States, a threat to the United States, we have to be careful, we have to support NATO allies, that is all very pretty shocking, I would say, to Russia. So, what they are doing, in this case, too, is carefully saying, yes, they are saying that, but if you look at the comments by Mr. Tillerson, for example, on Crimea, I think was very interesting. He basically said --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: He draws a red line at Crimea.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. And he's -- in fact, he said, if I had been the secretary of state at that point, I would have supplied arms to the Ukrainian government and I would have had aerial reconnaissance on the eastern border of Ukraine. He is taking a pretty hard position.

That said, the Russians are reacting by saying, well -- in fact, Peskov, the spokesperson for Putin, saying, we will patiently explain this issue to him, to Mr. Tillerson. So, I think, again, here, they don't want to wade in too deeply. This is a very - a period of change and it's very complex and subtle and very domestically oriented American things, even though it's foreign policy.

VANIER: Right --

(CROSSTALK)

DOUGHERTY: So they are careful but they --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Sorry. Go ahead, Jill.

DOUGHERTY: No, I was going to say they're being careful but I don't think they want to wade in too much until they see precisely, let's say, the inauguration speech by incoming President Trump where he will play out, presumably, some of these issues, and also as they get into the real administration, the first 100 days, what specifically this administration begins to do.

VANIER: Absolutely. It's going to be very interesting to watch as it unfolds. It starts after January 20th, Inauguration Day.

Jill Dougherty, we'll be speaking to you a lot more in the coming days and weeks.

Thank you very much.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you.

[02:15:00] VANIER: Still to come on CNN, Trump loves making deals. So, CNN looks at whether he ever cut any big ones in Russia.

And why immigrating to the U.S. just got tougher from those fleeing the Castro regime, when we come back.

((COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VANIER: There's a major change in U.S. policy toward Cuba just days before President Obama leaves office. The White House says Mr. Obama is ending the long-standing policy of granting immediate political asylum to Cubans who set foot on American soil, commonly known as the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy. It has been the approach to Cuban immigrants for more than 20 years. But Mr. Obama says, effective immediately, Cubans wishing to resettle in the U.S. will now have to go through the same process as immigrants from other countries.

We want to find out more about this policy change and its potential impact. Dan Restrepo joins us now. He advised President Obama on Latin-American issues for six years. He joins me from Washington.

Dan, as someone who advised the president on these issues, what is your take on this?

DAN RESTREPO, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERCAN PROGRESS: It's an interesting development. In one respect, it's another step forward in the normalization of treating the U.S./Cuba relationship like we treat other relationships. But it can't be ignored that it is happening eight days before a change in an administration. So, the timing is a little curious. But the nature of the change is quite consistent with what we've seen from President Obama over the course of the last two years.

VANIER: It does feel very last minute. And I wonder why he didn't mention it to Congress, for instance. There are people very critical at this move.

RESTREPO: There is no way do this in an open -- in a consultative way in a sense that this is a major change in U.S. migration policy. Uncertainty in U.S. migration policy towards Cuba has the peril of setting in motion an immigration crisis. If people thought this change was coming, if it was rumored this change was coming, people would try to get here quickly. You could see tens of thousands of people taking to make-shift rafts. You could have seen a real humanitarian crisis unfold. The notion this was done as a surprise, if you will, fully within the discretion of the executive branch, that is not out of the norm. It's the only way they could have done it.

VANIER: What about the premise behind the policy in the first place and repealing the policy? Wasn't the premise that Cuban immigrants needed preferential treatment, needed extra help because of human rights conditions, lack of freedom of speech, and possible danger to their safety in Cuba? Has that changed enough in Cuba to warrant the end of the policy?

[02:19:51] RESTREPO: Right. This policy dates back, the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot part, those picked up at sea versus those who reach land in the United States, dates 20 years. But the broader policy, under the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is part of U.S. law that authorizes this treatment, dates back to the Cold War. In a lot of ways, it's a relic of the Cold War to have this disparate treatment. There are other countries with significant human rights concerns with restrictions on freedom of assembly and press that don't get this treatment. So, Cubans, going forward, will have the same access to asylum as any others in the world. But the notion of kind of this vestige of a Cold War and treating folks because of a law passed at the height of the tensions between Cuba and the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's putting that behind us, consistent with what the president has been trying to do in the last two years on his Cuban policy.

VANIER: What impact is it going to have in the near term? Is it going to stop the flow of Cubans trying to cross into the U.S.?

RESTREPO: You already have people en route and those people are going to complete their journey and see what happens. They don't have another choice. And how quickly they are deported will be an important signaling mechanism to others that the old guarantee that you get to stay if you reach the United States is no longer true. That should have the effect of deterrence, of sending a clear message to people that it's not worth the risk.

That said, the United States sees migration from every other country in the world on a regular basis, people who take these perilous journeys hoping for a better life and fully disposed to live in the shadows of the United States if they can manage avoiding detection as they enter the country. Cubans will become just like other migrants to the United States.

VANIER: Dan Restrepo, thanks very much. Thanks for your time.

RESTREPO: Thank you.

VANIER: And the Cuban government says it welcomes the move, however, it also said that Washington needed to go a step further.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It will also be necessary for the Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the only one of its kind in the world that does not correspond to the current bilateral context.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: And as our guest mentioned a moment ago, Dan Restrepo, that act, passed during the Cold War, gives Cubans preferential immigration status.

VANIER: On Thursday morning, the U.S. Senate took the first step to repealing Obamacare. That resolution is set to go to the House of Representatives later on Friday. A quick reminder of the Affordable Care Act. It's one of the most contentious and partisan issues in Washington since it became law in 2010. It has helped an estimated 20 million previously uninsured Americans obtain health coverage by preventing insurance companies from denying coverage. And it requires everyone to have coverage, or pay a fee if they don't. And young adults can stay on their parents' plans until they turn 26. But critics say Obamacare has done nothing to stop the rising cost of health care in the U.S.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, spoke to doctors in Atlanta about the political firestorm around health care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(LAUGHTER)

DR. BRIAN HILL, ATLANTA PHYSICIAN: He's all yours.

I love medicine. When you are in the exam room and you are with the patient. You operate. You do the things that we were trained to do, it's awesome. When I have to deal with the burden around the system of health care that makes medicine difficult.

Literally, it took me two little swipes.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a typical 14-hour day, Dr. Brian Hill is immersed in the realities of health care. His conclusion?

HILL: The Affordable Care Act has to go away.

GUPTA (on camera): A year from now, 2018, what do you think it will look like?

HILL: The same political morass it is today, that it was yesterday and that it was eight years ago.

GUPTA (voice-over): Most doctors, like Brian Hill, are not shy when it comes to expressing their views on Obamacare.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Mad as hell.

GUPTA: And just like the rest of us, doctors tend to like or dislike the law based on their political preference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, any pain up here?

GUPTA: But there are other factors, your age, for example.

DR. BENJAMIN SOMMERS, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Younger physicians were more favorable towards the Affordable Care Act and supportive of the idea that the government has a role to play in helping citizens afford health care.

GUPTA: How do doctors feel about Obamacare? Well, a little stuck. Only 3.2 percent give Obamacare an "A" grade. And yet, most of the major medical organizations are urging no repeal without replacement worried about the loss of coverage for millions of people.

[02:25:10] SOMMERS: I think the AMA has it right. This is the biggest drop in the number of people without health insurance since 50 years ago.

GUPTA (on camera): For the beneficiaries, what do you say to them as a doctor?

HILL: Did we really solve the problem? Co-pays and deductibles are going up. They're giving you benefits but are they really giving you health care.

GUPTA (voice-over): As many doctors see it, the same exact care now costs more than it should.

HILL: I look at my office, and I've got a coder, a biller, someone who works on precertification, all of those things have raised the cost of health care to point where physicians want out.

GUPTA: Last year, Hill got out. His practice swallowed by a larger hospital. That did reduce his costs, but now he worries about his patients. Why? Because big hospitals can charge more money.

(on camera): For example, we decided to join Dr. Hill in the operating room. We understand now he is partners with the hospital, he can be doing the same type of operation on the same type of patient in the same operating room except the costs will be 20 percent to 30 percent higher.

(voice-over): The hospital that is partnering with Hill refused to comment for the story.

So, what is the solution? For Hill, it's about giving the market back to the consumer and letting doctors earn their trust.

HILL: Why do I need people in Washington, D.C., to fix things? We are going the fix it. I have faith in that.

No catheter.

I think the solutions are going to come from us.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: We're going the take a quick break.

For our viewers in Asia, "State of America" with Kate Bolduan is next.

For everyone else, when we come back, we look at how Donald Trump is trying to distance his business empire from Russia.

Plus, a French far-right politician has been spotted at Trump tower. What Marine le Pen's New York trip might mean for the French presidential race. That's all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:30:21] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier, with your headlines this hour.

(HEADLINES)

VANIER: And Donald Trump is promising to distance his real estate empire from potential conflict of interests. But questions over whether he has business relationships in Russia still remain.

Brian Todd reports from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump is not backing away from his apparent admiration for Vladimir Putin and his hopes for a good relationship with the Russian president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.

TODD: But the president-elect is determined to avoid the appearance that he might have business conflicts in Russia.

TRUMP: I have no deals. I have no loans. And I have no dealings.

We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to. I just don't want to because I think that would be a conflict.

TODD: There's no way to verify Trump's claim because he hasn't released his tax returns.

CNN and other news outlets have looked into Trump's history with Russia and found he made no significant real estate deals there, but not for a lack of trying.

Trump's attempts to build hotels and other buildings in Russia go back at least 30 years.

UNIDENTIFIED AUTHOR: He tried several times to do deals in Moscow. He said we'll be in Moscow but he wasn't able do the real estate deals.

TODD: An attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow fell through before it got started.

What's gotten in the way of Trump's attempts to make some real estate deals in Russia and elsewhere?

UNIDENTIFIED AUTHOR: Donald Trump tries to make deals around the world and, often times, in recent years, it's been an effort to have someone else bear the risk and pay Donald Trump to put his name on a building.

TODD: But Trump has made money from Russia. He sold this mansion in Palm Beach to a Russian billionaire for $95 million.

And there was one deal in Moscow that did go through.

TRUMP: Russia is our partner in this endeavor.

TODD: In 2013, he made millions when he partnered with a Russian billionaire to hold the Miss Universe Pageant in the shadow of the Kremlin. At the time, Trump tweeted, "Do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow? If so, will he become my new best friend?" MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR: Trump did want to meet with Putin during

the Miss Universe Pageant. The connection was never made but I think there was an exchange of gifts.

TODD: Which one biographer says included a lacquered box from Putin.

Trump has since given conflicting accounts of whether he's ever really met Putin in person.

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST (voice-over): Have you met Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP (voice-over): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST: You have?

TRUMP: One time, yes, a long time ago.

TODD: A year later, a different story.

TRUMP (voice-over): I never met Putin.

TODD: Either way, one Trump biographer says he has a deep fascination with Russia and its leaders.

D'ANTONIO: There's something in him that really admires strong men, tough guys, who seem to be able to get things done without much encumbrance.

TODD (on camera): Looking ahead, Donald Trump's lawyer promises that no new foreign deals will be made by Trump's company during his time in the White House. And any profits from foreign government payments to his hotels, like this one, will be donated to the U.S. Treasury.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: A far-right French politician was spotted at Trump Tower on Thursday. But why Marine le Pen visited Trump's New York headquarters is unclear. She praised the U.S. president-elect in the past. But Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, says that the Trump team didn't meet with her.

Le Pen is expected to be a front runner in this year's French presidential election, and while she was in New York, her opponents were squaring off in their first presidential primary debate.

For more on the debate and le Pen's New York trip, here's CNN's Jim Bittermann, who joins us live from Paris.

Jim, pleasure to have you on the show.

Do we have any idea why Marine le Pen was in Trump Tower?

[02:35:11] JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Reminds you of that old line from "Casablanca," "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine."

Both the Trump people and the Marine le Pen people say there was not a meeting yesterday between the two parties. She was just there meeting with a person who is affiliated with the National Front, her party, as well as other extremist groups in the United States and Europe, a go- between between extremist groups, and she was there to meet with him. And she was visibly seen meeting with him and having a cup of coffee. What that was about, whether it was arranging a meeting with Trump or doing fundraising, they are speculating here, but difficult to know what was happening.

VANIER: If nothing else, there was a photo and camera opportunity right there.

Let's move on to the French primary debate. The left wing of French politics is up for grabs since Francois Hollande decided not to run again. How did the debate go in his absence?

BITTERMANN: In fact, some people are characterizing it as lifeless and too well behaved on the part of the candidates. Basically, seven candidates, all of them jockeying for position to fill that political vacuum left by Francois Hollande. And people were saying even that the debate was boring. Basically, there wasn't just any argument between the -- among the candidates. If anything, the former Prime Minister Valls seems to have come out on top. There was a snap poll taken after the debate last night and he was the most convincing, according to the watchers of the television last night. But it wasn't that great of a show and people are look forward now to the next debate Sunday night. And there are two more after that one before the first round of the election and one between the two primary election rounds.

But it should be said that the Socialist Party, after five years of Hollande in power, it is falling into irrelevance here. The latest public opinion polls nationwide for the presidency indicates that even if its Manuel Valls, who seems to be the most popular on the Socialist side, even if it's him, he would only come in fifth in the first round of the national elections in April -- Cyril?

VANIER: That's a damning indictment of where the Socialist Party stands.

Jim Bittermann, thank you very much.

Of course, we will be ramping up our coverage of the campaign as it gets underway. Thanks a lot.

Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It'll also give the Internet, one last chance to --

(LAUGHTER)

-- talk about our bromance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: A surprising last chapter of a White House friendship as the vice president receives a big honor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:41:03] VANIER: After eight years in the White House together, the friendship between President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden seems to have only deepen. They joined staff members on Thursday for a farewell event.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a remarkable man. And I just hope that the asterisk in history that is attached to my name, when they talk about this presidency, is that I can say I was part of, part of the journey of a remarkable man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Now beyond the big love, the president used the power of his office to bring his vice president to tears. He bestowed a rare honor on him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For the final time as president, I am pleased to award our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(APPLAUSE)

(CHEERING)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Now Biden says he had no idea he was getting the award.

And the president joked that the ceremony will give the Internet another chance to poke fun at their well-known bromance. Their friendship had been captured in dozens of White house photos. It's even gone viral in web videos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I'm paying for Joe, so don't take his money.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I thought I was paying for you. OBAMA: Oh, no, no.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA: I can't golf every day, can i?

BIDEN: Which do you like better, these, or these?

OBAMA: Joe, they're the same.

BIDEN: They capture different moods.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Mr. Obama and Joe Biden are about a week away from being replaced by the Trump administration. We'll see whether the president-elect and his vice president have a bromance going on there.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier.

"World Sport" is up next.

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